Gillian Duffield’s record in the world’s biggest Purebred Arabian races is exemplary.
In fact the Dubai-based trainer has won every Arabian Group race in England and claimed four UAE Arabian trainers’ championships over the years.
Yet for someone who has enjoyed so much success in her profession, Duffield found her way into the world of Arabian racing by accident.
The British handler was a successful trainer of point-to-pointers during the late 1980s, enjoying top tier victories with a number of her charges, including stable star, Rhusted, who claimed 14 Open wins (the highest category of point-to-point races) under Duffield’s conditioning.
But it was not until she triumphed with what she considered to be a one-off Arabian winner at Aintree, that Duffield came to the attention of the Arabian racing world.
That victory led to overtures from Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s Shadwell racing operation, which was searching for a trainer of Arabian horses. And soon after that Duffield took a decision that was to shape the rest of her career and bring her to the desert sands of Dubai.
It was back in 1989 that Duffield first took out a license to train Arabian horses and since then her name has been synonymous with the world’s best-known Arabian runners, including Madjani, Kaolino, Bengalant, Eau Royale and No Risk Al Maury.
Multiple wins in the UAE’s most prestigious races, including the President’s Cup, Dubai Kahayla Classic, Al Maktoum Challenge series, Emirates Championships, UAE Triple Crown and Colts’ and Fillies’ Classics soon followed.
Yet like any successful sportsperson, Duffield is just as hungry for success today as she was back when she started.
This season the trainer will be taking a targeted approach to her race schedule, with the emphasis on quality rather than quantity.
“We will end up with around 20 horses in training this season,” said Duffield. “We have a few nice horses coming over from the UK at around the end of the year, so we will be starting the season without the numbers on the ground initially.”
Making the trip from the UK is Duffield’s Tzar du Paon, the winner of the IFAHR Trophy in Istanbul, Turkey, last season. He was last seen on a track when coming third in the prestigious Group 1 Shadwell Dubai International Stakes, part of September’s Dubai International Arabian Race Day, at England’s Newbury Racecourse.
“He has a lot of ability but is still a little green,” said Duffield of the half- brother to Dubai Kahayla Classic winner, Seraphin du Paon. “We’ll just start him off slowly and be looking at giving him around four runs this season.”
Also in the UAE this season is another Newbury star, Elraawy, who claimed the Bengali d’Albret Premier Handicap, helping Duffield, who also trained runner-up, Sadiq, to emerge from the two-day race meeting as champion trainer.
Duffield is also looking forward to the seasonal debut of popular mare, AF Alghabra, who won three times last season and will be aimed at the Mazrat Al Ruwayah Prep at the opening Meydan meeting on November 8 and the National Day Cup.
Training Arabians is not simply about winning for Duffield. She enjoys the sense of tradition and history that comes with the sport in the UAE.
“Arabians are great little horses,” she said. “They are horses that are meant to be enjoyed. Dealing with them is a skill. I have been training Arabians for a long time but there are nationals [Emiratis] here who know more about these horses than I ever will because they are such an important part of the heritage here.
“Arabian races in the UAE are competitive and there is a lot of enjoyment to be gained from racing them and I think it’s important that this part of the heritage is protected and nurtured, especially in a city like Dubai that is developing so quickly.”